Zurich Youth Symphony Orchestra embarked upon a very successful tour of the UK in October 2018 and I shared their experiences with them throughout as courier. Beginning at the historic Snape Maltings, they performed in a joint concert with Suffolk Youth Orchestra (another regular client of ACFEA) to a sizeable and appreciative audience. It was wonderful to see both orchestras cheer each other on! As the final concert of Suffolk’s conductor Philip Shaw, a veteran of Suffolk County Music Service, it was a special evening for all. For dinner we hired a private fish and chip van from a local supplier –a great start to the tour!
The next day the group visited Cambridge where they experienced the delights of English weather -torrential rain and cold winds! Their second concert was in Reading at Leighton Park School where they were warmly welcomed by the Director of Music. Despite a 'small' set back on arrival as two tyres burst on the instrument van, the concert was a success and very enjoyable. 18 year old violin soloist Annouk Brönnimann impressed everyone with a spectcular performance of Khachaturian’s concerto for solo violin.
On Tuesday we travelled onwards to London via Windsor to watch the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle, followed by a traditional English afternoon tea. Our wonderful coach drivers Jaimie and Craig, very much part of the team by this point, particularly enjoyed this day. On Wednesday evening we went into the heart of the City of London to watch the BBC Symphony Orchestra in concert at the Barbican Centre. Coming from Zurich where concert programmes are often quite conservative, the modern repertoire choices were a highlight for the group and they left inspired for their final two performances.
The next day was a full day spent at James Allen Girl’s School (JAGS) in Dulwich where both orchestras joined together side by side to perform a new piece composed by Peter Gritton (Director of Music for JAGS) entitled ‘Trip to Mars’ and the final movement of Dvorak’s Symphony No.9. They made a fantastic sound which was very much appreciated by the invited audience [photo: both orchestras together in rehearsal of Trip to Mars].
The final concert at St James’s Church, Piccadilly on Friday was the perfect way to round off the tour -they performed their repertoire in full, the well-loved Dvorak Symphony No.9 “From the New World” and the lesser known Khachaturian Violin Concerto. There was a retiring collection raising money for the Otakar Kraus Music Trust - their mission is to ensure that every child and adult has access to affordable music therapy in the community, helping to improve their well-being and quality of life through creative and participatory music making. The 250 strong audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation and donated over £1000. I’m so pleased I was able to share in the successes of this very talented youth orchestra!
Site inspections are always full of excitement and the trip with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) was no different. As a first time visitor I was constantly stunned by the beauty of the landscape, the variety of food and how warm and hospitable the locals were.
We landed after midnight at a regional airport (to applause from the plane…) and sped through the streets of Sibiu to the hotel. Early next morning we visited our first concert venue, walking through the Christmas markets of this former European Capital of Culture and arrived to the sound of the Sibiu Philharmonic rehearsing Spartacus by Khachaturian. There followed our first long drive of the trip seeing many a horse and cart along the way.
The next stop on our adventure was the tiny Saxon village of Malancrav where we visited one of many fortified churches in Transylvania with original pre-Reformation frescoes and the wonderful Apafi Mansion. Then it was on to Sighișoara, the birthplace of Dracula, where we climbed to the church atop the hill and had a lovely dinner just a short walk from Dracula’s house!
The next day we decided to take a “shortcut” from Sighișoara to Brașov and ended up on uneven country lanes with the snow falling around us – the car got quite grubby but we had beautiful views of the countryside and spotted some wildlife. We also managed a brief stop at the castle stronghold of Făgăraș where we were allowed to take the throne for a few minutes. It was very cold in the gothic Black Church in Brașov (so named because the roof and exterior walls and roof were blackened from a great fire in 1689) so we retreated to a restaurant for dinner where we were instructed to try the local tipple called palinka – a traditional fruit brandy – which was very strong but delicious!
On our final day we made the long journey to Bucharest this time stopping in Sinia for a view of the magnificent Peleș Castle as well as coffee and a cake. In Bucharest we took a tour of the Athenaeum, a landmark of the Romanian capital city (see first and last image) and afterwards I tried another traditional Romanian dish (essentially cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat) which was very nice indeed.
So ended the site inspection to Romania. LSSO's tour in July of this year was a great success, their performances were received by appreciative audiences and the group came back with lifelong memories of the culture and hospitality of this country.
When you accept a job as an ACFEA courier, you know that you are taking on a huge responsibility. Tour Managers work on their tours for months. They know every little detail about the group and about the destination and, when the tour is set for departure, they pass the responsibility onto the courier to ensure all runs smoothly. Eton College was the first UK school group I worked with as a courier, but I was not alone on the tour – I was accompanied by Pilar, an experienced courier who had couriered for many ACFEA tours.
Our courier role involves taking care of all of the details of the tour – all of which are tailor-made. Duties include getting in touch with hotels and restaurants beforehand to make sure all the arrangements are reconfirmed, checking that the coaches are going to be waiting for us at the right time and contacting the venues to confirm the group’s arrival and concert set-up arrangements.
Couriers also have to be quick to understand how groups are organised and adapt to their needs. With Eton College, we went through the itinerary with Tim, the group leader, at the end of every day and he would then pass on specific instructions to the students. All the boys were very collaborative and always willing to help when it came to loading or unloading the coaches and the instrument van. Due to the high temperatures of Spain during the summer, our interaction with Nik, the van driver, was extremely important - instruments are valuable and delicate so it was important for us to ensure they were not exposed to the sun. Nik was incredibly helpful at all times and thanks to his previous experience transporting instruments for professional orchestras we were confident he knew what to do.
The highlight of the tour is, of course, the concerts which were truly outstanding! From my personal point of view, it was a privilege to act as an interpreter for the conductor and express the group’s gratitude to the audience in my native language. After every concert members of the audience interacted with the performers, thanking them for being there. For some it was the first time they had ever seen an orchestra performing live. But it wasn’t only an emotional experience for the locals attending - one of the matrons who came on the tour couldn’t stop crying when the soloist performed Sibelius Violin Concerto. She explained to me that she had watched him grow up and now she had to say goodbye to him, after six years. Witnessing how involved the staff are with the wellbeing and development of the children had a huge impact on me.
After ten days of hard work and little sleep, I can only say what was an incredibly rewarding experience it was - I made lots of new friends and I cannot wait for my next tour to begin!
Christmas came early when I was given the green light to accompany Schola Cantorum on part of their tour to South Africa in October 2017. 24 hours after leaving the UK and a long journey via Dubai we arrived in Johannesburg and met our courier, Pieter. The group were tired but in good spirits and after a spot of lunch we were revived enough for a guided tour of Soweto. A visit to the Walter Sisulu Square featured the choir in an impromptu performance of Ukuthula in the brick tower (a monument to the Freedom Charter where the full principles of the charter are engraved) with its beautiful acoustic.
Next followed a visit to The Hector Pieterson Memorial and shortly after Regina Mundi, the largest Catholic Church in South Africa where the group would be taking part in Catholic Mass the next day. One of the most prominent artefacts in the church is the painting entitled "The Madonna and Child of Soweto", mostly referred to as "The Black Madonna", depicting a black Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus (see photo). The walls still bear the signs of the shootings of the Soweto uprising of June 16, 1976, when students were shot by the police in Orlando West.
After this thought provoking tour we returned for a rest in the hotel before dinner. A fantastic lightning storm ensued on the way to dinner at the restaurant Carnivore. As the name suggests, there was a veritable feast of different meats on offer including alligator, zebra and warthog, as well as pork and chicken. The group seemed to really enjoy it!
The next morning the Schola Cantorum took part in the service at Regina Mundi where they sang alongside the church choir and were made to feel very welcome. Much of the service was in English but they did switch between many of the other regional languages. The group were given the opportunity to perform on the altar steps at the end of the service. It was moving to see the congregation taking photos and enjoying the music. After the service, the group departed for Pilanesberg in anticipation of the Safari!
Receiving the wakeup call from Pieter at 4:45 am the next day was painful to say the least, but it wasn’t long before the excitement of what was ahead dawned on me. At the game reserve we separated into two groups and almost immediately spotted our first animal - a rhino! The rhino is one of the 'big five' (the name refers to the five mammals that were the most dangerous to hunt), shortly followed by an elephant and a giraffe. Our guide then received a call over the radio – lions had been spotted! We raced through the park and arrived in time to see two male lions wandering around – it was marvellous (and unusual) to see them so active. Before too long the morning game drive was over and we were on our way to Sun City for a visit to the Valley of the Waves where the boys made the most of the water slides (I only went on the slower ones!).
Back at the game reserve for the evening drive it became clear that our driver was looking for something and sure enough we found it – a leopard – the rarest of the big five! What a privilege! There were various groups vying for a good spot but the leopard managed to evade everyone and disappeared after about 15 minutes. It was ok though because as the sun was setting we came across three cheetahs (see photo) which was probably my favourite part of the whole day. The reserve was silent apart from their calls to each other.
Dinner was a BBQ in the middle of the park (guarded by a man with a gun!) and followed by a campfire where the group sang a few songs together. It was a really memorable day.
The next day we said goodbye to Pilanesberg and made the journey to George on the Garden Route. After a short rehearsal the choir performed in a joint concert with the South Cape Children’s Choir and they sang Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus together. It was a joy to watch these two diverse choirs sing together, even if I was occasionally distracted by the bat flying around in the rafters! The venue was wonderful and the audience gave both groups a standing ovation!
On Wednesday, we ventured over the Outeniqua Mountains (where the weather changed dramatically) towards the Cango Caves at Oudtshoorn stopping at an Ostrich Farm along the way. Here the group had the opportunity to feed and stroke some of the ostriches as well as stand on the eggs (which can take weight of up to 120kg)! At the Cango Caves we all visited the first few chambers with impressive formations of stalagmites and stalactites. The majority of the group continued on for the Adventure Tour. This involved a small trek deep into the bowels of the caves culminating with a looped tour where members of the group were required to climb and squeeze through small gaps. It was challenging but everyone had a blast! Back in the main chamber the group took advantage of the spectacular acoustic and performed for the other visitors. We returned to George for a delicious dinner at an ocean restaurant where we looked out at the stormy Indian Ocean. The perfect end to another adventure-filled day!
My final day with the grioup included the journey by coach from George to Cape Town. Before we left George, we stopped at the beach for a quick look at sea. A few people got caught out by the waves so there were some very wet feet for our journey!
I arrived in Cape Town with enough time for a brief glimpse of Table Mountain and the group's short rehearsal at the Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium (where they were to perform another joint concert that evening). I bade an emotional farewell and departed for the airport.
I thoroughly enjoyed being in South Africa, the cultural experience was diverse. The country has so much to offer and I probably only experienced a small percentage of that on my whistle-stop trip! I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful country, made all the better for the enthusiasm and knowledge of our representative Pieter, and it was a double bonus to be there with such a delightful and talented group.
The Choir of Jesus College Cambridge is currently on tour in South Africa! If you are interested in learning more about a concert tour to South Africa get in touch here!
As Tim Johnson, Director of Music at Eton College, said in his opening address, it was thoughtful of the Royal Family to organise Harry and Meghan’s wedding so that it coincided with the MMA Conference. The trade fair venue, Eton College’s magnificent School Hall, would have been splendid enough in its own right, but coupled with the carnival atmosphere in Windsor on May 19, the whole weekend created a very special atmosphere. Inspiring keynote speeches from Tony Little and Will Gompertz, choral evensong sung by delegates in Eton College Chapel, and the opportunity to view the magnificent Eton Choirbook in the College library, added to the unique attraction of the event. ACFEA was proud to sponsor the final dinner in the elegant surroundings of Dorney Lake Boathouse, and the evening was rounded off with a spectacular musical fireworks display.
Here at ACFEA, our mission statement is simple: “to create unique opportunities for memorable and life changing experiences”. We are passionate about school trips and the benefits they can offer to the whole school community. Whilst it’s possible to receive a general musical education in the classroom, there is no substitute for actual performing experiences in the wider world, in a variety of different venues and to new audiences. Our bespoke concert tours can bring about unforgettable positive experiences and wonderful opportunities to learn. They aid not only musical development, but can contribute to learning in a wide range of areas such as history, the wider arts, language and culture.
The Director of Allegro Con Brio wrote to us after their tour to Sweden in June 2017: “With the completion of our fourth international trip with ACFEA, the Allegro staff is once again blown away by the thoughtful care and creativity in planning and executing our tour. The two exchange choir opportunities were life changing, and the relationships built between young singers were meaningful and heartfelt.”
Pupils who don’t normally shine in the classroom have been known to excel on a residential concert tour. In terms of personal development, students are given opportunities to grow in resilience, self-confidence and self-esteem. Touring as a school community can add a new dimension in terms of how students relate with each other, bringing out a range of interpersonal skills including leadership, team work, trust and respect. This can all help to improve performance and relationships back at school.
Phillip Scott, conductor of Hampshire County Youth Wind Ensemble, described their tour to Germany which ACFEA operated in July 2017: “I'm struggling to think of any tour I've been involved in which has offered such a combination of unforgettable venues, warm welcomes from venue hosts and… mind-boggling numbers attending. None of my students will ever forget their six days in Germany - for at least one, it was his first trip abroad - and I think that the memories of the concerts at the Thomaskirche and Brandenburg Cathedral will become burnished over the years as very special events in their youth.”
In February 2018, ACFEA was proud to be awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge for the 8th year running, as part of being an Assured Member of the School Travel Forum. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom advocates that every young person should experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of learning and personal development, whatever their age, ability or circumstances. The purpose of the Quality Badge is to help schools identify good quality and safe provision, and to reduce red tape for schools when planning educational visits, as it combines learning and safety into one easily recognisable accreditation. As a Quality Badge holder, schools have the assurance that ACFEA delivers:
ACFEA organises concert tours for schools and colleges across the world, and the feedback which we received from the Director of American choir, Washington & Jefferson College Singers, to Prague, Vienna and Salzburg last year gives confidence to other educational organisations considering planning a concert tour: “Thank you so much to everyone who made our tour such a special experience. This was my first time taking a choir abroad, and I honestly don't know why I waited so long. I plan to take my community choir to Italy in the summer of 2018 and I will absolutely, positively use ACFEA. Every detail was handled so professionally. From the planning phase to check in at the airport and all during the tour, our needs were the top priority of ACFEA. It was an extraordinary experience. Many, many thanks for all you did for us.”
With a busy touring summer behind us, November saw the team from ACFEA Tour consultants travel up to Derbyshire for our annual review meeting. As Tour Manager Elizabeth Assmann says, “it was the second time the team had met at the cosy East Lodge Hotel in Rowsley so we knew we were in for a treat! Spending this time together, away from our regular office base, is really valuable because it’s an opportunity to meet together to review the past touring season and also an opportunity to re-connect as a team and strengthen our working relationships.
During the morning and afternoon we met together in the hotel’s private meeting room to note the highs and lows of our groups’ experiences in each touring destination. Our discussions focussed on how to improve the experience of each group which chooses to tour with us and the way we work to deliver the high quality tours ACFEA is known for.
On our third and final day, with all our meetings successfully concluded, it was time to explore a bit of the beautiful county of Derbyshire! After breakfast we drove into the Peak District National Park and enjoyed a short walk with breath-taking views. We then drove on to visit the picturesque village of Eyam. The village is noted for an outbreak of bubonic plague which occurred there in 1665, in which the villagers chose to isolate themselves rather than let the infection spread. We visited the church and the local arts & craft centre before reluctantly leaving the beautiful county of Derbyshire behind and heading back to London.”